If you have to ask who’s in the Green Book, you’re probably not.
We speak of the “Social List of Washington, D.C.” — nicknamed the Green Book for its distinctive apple-green faux-suede cover. For the past 83 years, the book has provided a guide to official Washington, plus a whole bunch of well-bred folks you’ve never heard of.
“It’s like an exclusive address book,” explained Kevin Chaffee, a Washington Life senior editor who’s been listed for the past three decades. “Back in the old days, it was more of a stud book. You assumed that if someone was in the Green Book, they were part of proper Washington society.”
Background and money still count, although the book’s focus has broadened to include people “contributing to the life of Washington,” said new publisher Peter Murray, who took the helm from his 90-year-old father this week. “We’ve changed with the times — to an extent. But the bottom line is that it’s a communications tool between the many factions that make up Washington.”
Murray, 56, is the great-grandson of founder Helen Ray Hagner, who created the book in 1930 as a comprehensive annual list of the city’s elite. The current issue of the book, which sells for $85 and comes out every fall, includes about 5,500 names, addresses (winter and summer homes), phone numbers, maiden names and children’s schools.
You’d be surprised who’s in there. Except for the perfunctory roster of titled officials, the book bears little resemblance to those “D.C. power” rankings you see in so many magazines. Red-hot pundits and media stars who top the wish lists of every party host in town are scarce in these pages; same for many high-flying lobbyist and business types. In their place: A lot of. . . well, honestly, we don’t even know most of them. Folks whose granddads were very important and who remain, in the publishers’ view, Very Nice People.
Murray’s mission: Maintain tradition, but modernize.The board still selects nominees for the list. “You can never pay to get into the book,” he told us. People have tried bribes, he says; doesn’t work. And there’s no guarantee of staying on the list: Even VIPs have been dropped for divorce (that changed in the early ’80s), notoriety (Supreme Court Justice William Douglas lost his place for marrying a woman young enough to be his granddaughter) or involvement in scandals. A popular annual press release with names of the ousted ended, to much dismay, about 30 years ago.
There’s a Web site now and an online version for subscribers only, most of whom are in the book themselves. “We’re very careful about who we sell the book to,” Murray said. His new goal is to bring the next generation of young socialites into the book. “If it survived the ’60s, it’s going to survive now,” Chaffee predicted.
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